Betsy DeVos unveils new campus sexual assault rules, gets slammed for 'stripping protections for survivors'
The United States Department of Education announced on Wednesday, May 6, new regulations dealing with campus sexual assault, that many critics say will bolster the rights of the accused.
Under the new rules, the definition of sexual harassment is narrowed to include only misconduct that is "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive" that it effectively denies the victim access to the school's education programs. The rules add dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking to the definition of sexual harassment.
"Today we release a final rule that recognizes we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence and due process," said Secretary Betsy DeVos. "This empowers survivors with more tools than ever before."
Under the Obama administration's guidelines, sexual harassment used a wider definition that included a range of conduct that "interferes with or limits" a student's access to the school. It said that could include "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature."
The new Title IX regulations, due to take effect in August, require colleges to hold live hearings, where victims and the accused can be cross-examined by an "adviser." Either party can request the hearing be held virtually in separate rooms.
"Cross-examination is an important part of ensuring truth is found," said DeVos, adding that "our rule is very sensitive to not requiring students to face each other. In fact, it specifically prohibits that. But it's an important part of ensuring that justice is ultimately served."
The new regulations also dictate that after a student reports an assault or a harassment incident covered by Title IX, the school must tell the students involved and their parents in writing about the allegations and the gathered evidence. The school must also give the accused person at least 10 days to respond. If the school decides to punish a student for a sexual assault allegation, it must tell the victim in writing.
Moreover, the person who investigates a sexual assault case under Title IX cannot be the same person who decides whether the accused student is responsible, implying that schools may need to hire and train additional staff.
"Among the many new requirements, our new regulation requires schools to have accessible options for reporting sexual harassment, verbally or in writing, including by email or by telephone," DeVos said. "Anyone can report, including survivors, parents, friends, or bystanders."
Critics quickly condemned DeVos's new regulations and the timing the department took to announce them. Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, and Derrick Johnson NAACP president and CEO wrote in a guest column for ajc.com, "DeVos’s Title IX rules would make it harder for students who are sexually harassed to receive vital support and protection while mandating unfair processes for investigating and addressing sexual harassment. All these changes would particularly hurt black women and girls, who face even higher stakes when reporting sexual harassment."
Graves also tweeted, "The @usedgov made a dangerous decision to give more protections to students that [perpetuate] violence than to students who need support in the aftermath of experiencing it. It's unbelievable that they would choose to prioritize this in the middle of a global pandemic. #HandsOffIX."
Civil rights attorney, Tahir Anderson Duckett wrote, "Nothing says 'we support students' like Betsy DeVos dropping a two-thousand page Rule decimating Title IX protections for survivors of sexual violence in the middle of a pandemic."
Representative Barbara Lee tweeted, "This new #TitleIX rule will punish and traumatize survivors around the country. No one should have to be cross-examined by their rapist. DeVos needs to resign."
Anti-rape activist, Wagatwe Wanjuki, shared, "The Title IX changes by Betsy DeVos are a part of the right-wing crusade to eradicate civil rights in education as we know it. But people are too steeped in rape culture to see what it is."
Senator Jeff Merkley took to Twitter to write, "Under cover of a national crisis, @BetsyDeVosED is stripping protections for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses. This is deeply damaging and completely unacceptable. I will keep fighting to ensure all students can learn in a safe environment."
The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) also tweeted that the organization will be taking the administration to court over the new rules, writing, "The @usedgov ignored more than 100,000 comments from the public, and instead is making schools 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐝𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐬 for students. The government agency in charge of K-12 and higher ed in the U.S. is blatantly violating Title IX."